LONDON (Reuters) - Paris and Berlin are in the running to join London and host a regular-season NBA fixture as the American basketball league looks to continue its expansion in Europe.
For the ninth successive year a sell-out crowd at London’s O2 Arena will watch a competitive NBA game on Thursday when the New York Knicks tackle the Washington Wizards.
No matter that both teams are hardly setting the season alight across the Atlantic, NBA fans from 39 nations snapped up the tickets for the 19,000-capacity venue in an hour.
Speaking on the eve of the game, the NBA’s Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum said “it was a matter of time” before other European cities hosted a game and did not rule out London staging more than one regular-season fixture.
“There has been a lot of interest in teams wanting to go to Paris because France is a hotbed for basketball,” Tatum, sitting alongside new NBA Managing Director for EMEA Ralph Rivera, told reporters at the NBA’s European office in London.
“We have nine French players in the NBA now. It’s just a matter of building the right business case and having the right partners in those areas. It is an important market for many of our marketing partners. It’s just a matter of time.”
While Spain and Italy are also large markets for the NBA, Tatum said they lacked the required facilities.
“We still don’t have the critical mass of facilities and buildings that can host NBA games,” he said. “But now we are seeing that in Paris and Berlin.”
The Bercy Arena in Paris last hosted an NBA pre-season game in 2010, also involving the Knicks, but it has recently been revamped and would be a likely venue.
“We’ve had games in Paris before and we took a break because they had to renovate the Bercy. Now that’s done, those conversations have picked up,” he said.
London is a tried and tested formula for the NBA, however, with a huge demand for tickets, so it seems that rather than remove it from the schedule, a mini Europe swing could be the way forward with London and Paris both involved.
“It’s been one (regular season game) per year. I definitely think there’s room for more than that,” said Tatum.
“We will have to figure out what that optimum number is, whether that’s two or three. I don’t think there’s any potential limit as long as it makes sense from a business standpoint.
“Do you split a weekend? A Thursday and a Saturday game? Eurostar in the middle of that? So we are looking at those scenarios. But a lot of it is logistics and caring about the players and the travel.”
Tatum also suggested the NBA’s All Star Game could one day be hosted outside the United States, while Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beale said he would even welcome a franchise in London.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “I’d say that’s not immediately on the horizon, but it’s something down the road we would contemplate and look at.”
Beale, speaking at a practise session, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a team eventually over here. I definitely hope it will happen one day.”
London has become a hub for American sports. The NFL hosted its first regular-season game in the city in 2007 and now stages three per season at Wembley. The MLB will host two baseball games between New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox this year.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford